Are Endangered Central Coast Sea Otters Lab 'Rats' Caught in PG&E's Halted Seismic Test? A Special Report

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]wp-content/uploads/SueArnold.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Sue Arnold is the CEO of California Gray Whale Coalition. She is a former Fairfax investigative journalist who regularly lobbies the US government in Washington DC, as well as the European Parliament and Commission on whale issues.[/author_info] [/author]

otterIn the last four years, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has issued permits to various organizations allowing takes by harassment of approximately 1,602 southern sea otters. This figure represents more than half the sea otter population of the Central Coast. Since 1998, many southern sea otters have been captured, recaptured, anesthetized, and subjected to surgical implants and removal of transmitter devices from their stomachs.

An investigation into the use of Central Coast sea otters as marine laboratory rats is long overdue. Fish & Wildlife Service has a mandatory responsibility to protect animals listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Subjecting these animals to capture and recapture, anaesthetics and surgery is surely the stuff of a Dr. Strangelove movie. Yet the evidence demonstrates the Service has allowed and even encouraged invasive experiments.

Central Coast residents have been focused on the fate of 40 sea otters destined to be the “canaries in the mine” for PG&E’s high-energy seismic surveys (HESS). But in denying PG&E the HESS permit in November, the California Coastal Commission made moot the ensonifying experiment.

Since that denial, residents and conservation organizations have been attempting to find out what exactly is happening to the implanted otters.

A lack of proper responses by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has raised significantly more issues.

In fact, with so many unanswered questions and a continuing refusal to release the relevant permit(s), except under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, the public is entitled to ask whether the real facts are being deliberately withheld and if so, by whom? And more to the point, why?

If a species listed under the ESA can be subjected to years of highly invasive experiments at a time when the population estimates are demonstrating a slowing recovery, disease problems and high mortality by sharks, what is the point of legislation?

Let’s go back in time.

In September 2005, the Marine Mammal Center submitted an application for reauthorization to implant subcutaneous and abdominal radar transmitters in rehabilitated southern sea otters for purposes of enhancement associated with rehabilitation and post-release monitoring activities.  It is unclear how many sea otters were allowed to be implanted or how many had been implanted in the past given this application was for a reauthorization.

Three years later, on April 7, 2008, a notice in the Federal Register[1] advised as follows:

Applicant: U.S. Geological Survey -Western Ecological Research Center, Santa Cruz Field Station, Santa Cruz.

The applicant requests renewal and amendment of the permit to take up to 850 southern sea otters from the wild for the purpose of scientific research on the ecology of the species. This notification covers activities to be conducted by the applicant over a five-year period.

A permit to take 850 sea otters represents almost one-third of the population. The Notice does not indicate any details of the scientific research on the ecology of the species to be undertaken.  

On July 18, 2008, Fish & Wildlife Service issued a final rule consistent with the Marine Mammal Commission recommendations in response to an application from the Western Ecological Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey, to renew and amend a permit authorizing the permit holder to conduct tagging studies and aerial surveys of California sea otters. The permit holder requested that the permit be renewed for an additional five years and amended to authorize an increased number of recaptures of animals implanted with recorders and several changes to research plans and protocols.

The Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) recommended that the Service approve the requested amendment, provided that the conditions contained in the existing permit remain in effect and that the proposed revisions to the research have been reviewed by the applicant’s Institutional Animal Care and Use committee. The Commission further recommended that the Service consult with the applicant to ensure that authorized takes are limited to the minimal number of animals necessary to produce statistically meaningful results, and the permit, if renewed, required that post-release monitoring be conducted to verify that the research is not having unanticipated adverse impacts on the population.

On October 31, 2008, the Service issued the amended permit. We have no idea of the numbers involved.

On April 7, 2009, in a letter headed Otter Mortalities Permit No. MA672624, addressed to the Western Ecological Research Center (WERC), U.S. Geological Survey, the Marine Mammal Commission, in consultation with its Committee of Scientific Advisors on Marine Mammals, reviewed the permit-holder’s final report on the deaths of three sea otters surgically implanted with time-depth recorders and VHF tags under Permit No. MA672624, and offered the following recommendation and comments.

Yet another unknown number of otters.

“The Marine Mammal Commission recommends that the Fish and Wildlife Service:

•  authorize resumption of the research, provided that the proposed modifications to the permit-holder’s research protocols are implemented;

•  request an explanation as to why the proposed modified research protocol does not include the option of using intra-operatively a single dose, broad-spectrum antibiotic that has a longer half-life than those currently used to provide additional protection from bacterial infection; and

•  request that the permit-holder clarify what would constitute “excessive stress” as discussed in the proposed modified research protocol.”

No further discussion of excessive stress or stress is canvassed in any of the documents that the writer has researched. It would be illogical to assume that capturing a sleeping sea otter, transporting the animal to shore to be anaesthetized and subjected to surgery would not be stressful. Stress can have major impacts on immune systems and reproduction.

Correspondence to WERC continues:

“Three sea otters (one male and two females) died during November 2008 at Big Sur, California, subsequent to capture, handling, and surgical implantation of TDR and VHF tags under Permit No. MA672624. Only two of the carcasses were recovered. The necropsy reports for the animals identify bacterial sepsis as the likely primary cause of death in both cases.

“Regarding otter 1093, it appears that bacteria (Vibrio alginolyticus) gained access to the subcutis and body cavity through the surgical incisions and then spread to the local lymph nodes and beyond, resulting in septicemia and death.”

Whether these are the same permits or whether there are two permits or a renewed permit which now includes ensonification of sea otters for the PG&E HESS is unclear. Nor is it clear if this is the permit referred to in the April 7, 2008 notice and if so, how tagging studies, aerial surveys and implanted recorders will produce relevant evidence on the ecology of the species. Evidence that has already been obtained in prior studies. Without notices for public comment in the Federal Register and any indication of the purpose of implanting a “small” number of sea otters in 2008, it’s anyone’s guess.

Moving on to the PG&E HESS, the following information is important.

According to the Federal Register Notice of 9/26/12,“due to the lack of data on the effects of air guns on sea otters, in addition to project-related mitigation monitoring, the Service has recommended that PG&E and LDEO use the survey as an opportunity to investigate the potential effects of air guns on sea otters.”

An extraordinary act by an Agency charged with mandatory responsibility for protecting listed animals from harm.

Federal Notices published a Proposed Incidental Harassment Authorization by Fish & Wildlife Service to take by harassment, “small numbers” of southern sea otters for a period of 2.5 months beginning on October l5, 2012 and ending December 31, 2012.

For a small take analysis, the statute and legislative history do not expressly require a specific type of numerical analysis, leaving the determination of “small” to the agency’s discretion. Factors considered in our small numbers determination include the following:

(1) The number of southern sea otters inhabiting the proposed impact area is small relative to the size of the southern sea otter population. The number of southern sea otters that could potentially be taken by harassment in association with the proposed activity is 352, less than 13 per cent of the estimated population size of 2,792.

It’s extremely doubtful any independent scientist would regard 13% of a population as a “small number”. At the same time, in identifying 13% as a “small number” a very concerning precedent is created making a mockery of the definition of “small”. The recommendation by the MMC to limit the take to the minimal number of animals is ignored.

Under the heading of “Monitoring of potential impacts on sea otters of Seismic Surveys, Diablo Canyon,” the following statement is made by Dr. Tinker:

A proposal by US Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center and California Department of Fish & Game Office of Spill Prevention and Response Principal Investigator Dr M.T. Tinker, Supervisory Research Biologist, USGS.

Background: The coastal regions to the north and south of Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) provide vital habitat for a relatively large proportion (~23%) of the threatened southern sea otter population. The proposed High Energy Seismic Survey (HESS) in the vicinity of DCPP, represents a potentially significant disturbance to certain marine wildlife species in the area. However, to-date there is a paucity of information as to the sensitivity of sea otters to acoustic disturbances of this nature, and thus little basis for estimating the magnitude of the impacts on individual sea otter behaviour and/or population level vital rates.

We propose to address this information gap by using the proposed seismic surveys as a natural experiment, measuring behavioural and demographic responses (if any) to the acoustic disturbance vent. The proposed work would provide a real-time monitoring infrastructure with which to detect and measure levels of harassment caused by the surveys, as required by US Fish and Wildlife Service, while at the same time providing useful information on behavioural response thresholds as a function of sound exposure for sea otters.

We will target both resident females and territorial males in kelp-dominated habitat as well as animals found in the open water areas of Estero Bay. Initial capture operations will begin on October 1, 2012 and conclude on or before October 20, 2012. If required, additional captures will be conducted in early summer 2013 to achieve desired sample sizes for the second year of seismic surveys.
Dr. Tinker then lists at length the extent of health parameters which will be measured and asserts that the flipper tags, VHF transmitter and Time Depth Recorders (TDRs) are all activities covered by an existing federal permit and institutional animal care and use (IACUC) permit issued to the principal investigator.

All very reassuring except that there is no reference to any permit number nor a copy of the existing federal permit. Nor is it available on request. The only way to access this permit is by a Freedom of Information application. A lawyer from the Center for Biological Diversity has indicated that having to appeal for a permit under a FOIA is “very unusual”; however an Agency has the right to make information difficult to access. Nor is there any proper reference to or copy of an IACUC permit issued to the principal investigator. The public, presumably, should be satisfied with his word.

The public has a right to know whether any Institution set up to ensure proper care of animals subjected to experiments has properly considered the impacts. Has this Institution adequately addressed the impacts of stress––on communication, on prey, on reproduction? Exactly what are the terms of reference of any IACUC permit?

The Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) on its website has the following information:

“To learn more about the ecology of the southern sea otter, scientists have implanted VHF radio transmitters and time-depth recorders (TDRs) in sea otters at multiple sites throughout their range. These radio-tagged otters are then followed closely by field workers for up to 5 years to monitor their survival, reproductive success, behaviour and vital signs as they dive and forage for food.

“This research has also highlighted the extreme degree of individual dietary specialization in the southern sea otter, and the significance of such specialisation for individual fitness and population dynamics. In addition, detailed health profiles are being developed for the radio-tagged study animals and beached carcasses are being examined and tissues analysed in an effort to determine important causes of death in sea otters.”

Another question. Under what permit? Is this the permit Dr. Tinker refers to as allowing the seismic studies? If not, then isn’t the permit which Dr. Tinker refers to as giving authority for the seismic testing a repeat of a study which is already underway in terms of establishing the otters’ ecology and health issues?

How many animals are allowed to be taken under the WERC experiment outlined in the previous paragraphs?

At this stage, without knowledge of the numbers included in the WERC experiment, the Service had authorized permits for a take of 1,202 sea otters.

Indeed, one of the questions that arises is whether these permits actually spelt out consent to and proper assessment of an experiment which exposed 40 sea otters to continuous underwater noise exposure at high frequency levels for two and a half months night and day?

Another question. Why has the Federal permit application, for an arguably very controversial experiment, not been made public? Can Dr. Tinker advise the date of any Federal Register Notice with an application for a permit to ensonify 40-60 southern sea otters for a period of over two months other than the IHA notice?

The IHA document also indicates that captured animals would be tracked through September 30, 2015. Dr. Tinker acknowledges that beginning in winter/spring 2014, after completion of the second set of seismic surveys, “attempts will be made to re-capture all study animals in order to retrieve TDR bio-logging instruments.” Methods for re-captures are essentially identical to those of the initial captures. Recaptured otters will be anesthetized and archival TDR instruments surgically explanted for data extraction.

But wait. The California Coastal Commission denied PG&E a permit to conduct HESS on the Central Coast. So what happens to the 40 implanted sea otters?

Next questions. What are the legalities of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ignoring the impending decision of the Coastal Commission? How is the ensonifying experiment allowed to proceed when there is no Coastal Commission consent to any permit and no HESS? What is now the purpose of the experiment?

Hang on a minute. Weren’t there similar experiments between l998 and 2004? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper[2] indicating sea otters were captured, anesthetized and surgically implanted with VHF transmitters and archival time-depth recorders between l998 and 2004 using previously established methods. According to the paper, the take was for 118 animals.

Whoops! There were two more permits for takes in the last four years. On July 25, 2008, the Service issued two permits to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to renew and amend a permit to increase from 50 to 100 the maximum number of southern sea otters that may be taken annually; authorize the conduct of rehabilitation and related activities under an enhancement permit; and authorize scientific research on live-stranded, captive-held, or released southern sea otters.

One permit authorized the rescue, rehabilitation and release of stranded otters and other authorized scientific research on the subject animals.

So we have another 400 otters to add to the number of takes, giving an overall take figure of 1,602 otters. More than half the population of 2,760 animals, give or take a few stranded otters. Exactly what kind of scientific research is Monterey Bay Aquarium carrying out on these animals?

That makes 1,720 the total number of implanted sea otters since l998––as far as we know.

On January 15, 2009 Representative Sam Farr of California and co-sponsors introduced a bill, H.R. 556, in the U.S. House of Representatives to promote the protection and recovery of southern sea otters. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, which held a public hearing on its provisions in the spring of 2009. Based on results of the hearing, the bill was revised, approved by the full House of Representatives, and forwarded to the Senate for its consideration where it died.

Interestingly, Representative Lois Capps was one of the co-sponsors of the bill. Given her recent statements of support for the PG&E HESS, the shifting electoral stands or sands of our politicians are curious.

The summary of the bill below was written by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress. It is important to note that the bill does not include any suggestion of using sea otters as experimental animals for high-energy seismic surveys and that the emphasis is on protection, mitigation of potential impacts and the causes of mortality.


Section 2 –

Requires the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), to carry out a Recovery and Research Program for southern sea otter populations along the coast of California that includes:

(1) monitoring, analysis, and assessment of population demographics, health, mortality, and life history parameters; and

(2) implementation of measures to reduce or eliminate potential factors limiting populations that are related to marine ecosystem health or human activities.

Requires the Secretary to:

(1) appoint persons to a southern sea otter recovery implementation team as authorized under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 within a year;

(2) establish a peer-reviewed, merit-based process to award competitive grants for research regarding such otters and for projects assisting the recovery of otter populations; and

(3) establish a peer review panel to provide scientific advice and guidance to prioritize proposals for grants.

Authorizes research grant topics to include:

(1) causes of sea otter mortality;

(2) southern sea otter demographics and natural history;

(3) effects and sources of pollutants, nutrients, and toxicants on such otters and sequestration of contaminants;

(4) effects and sources of infectious diseases and parasites affecting such otters;

(5) limitations on the availability of food resources for such otters and the impacts of food limitation on southern sea otter carrying capacity;

(6) interactions between southern sea otters and coastal fisheries and other human activities in the marine environment;

(7) assessment of the keystone ecological role of sea otters in southern and central California’s coastal marine ecosystems; and

(8) assessment of the adequacy of emergency response and contingency plans.

Authorizes funded recovery projects to include projects to:

(1) protect and recover southern sea otters;

(2) reduce, mitigate, or eliminate potential factors limiting southern sea otter populations that are related to human activities; and

(3) implement emergency response and contingency plans.

Requires the Secretary, within 12 months, to report to Congress on:

(1) the status of southern sea otter populations;

(2) implementation of the research and grant programs; and

(3) endangered species consultations regarding southern sea otters.

Requires the Secretary, within 24 months and every five years thereafter, to report to Congress and the public on:

(1) an evaluation of southern sea otter health, causes of southern sea otter mortality, and the interactions of southern sea otters with California’s coastal marine ecosystems;

(2) an evaluation of actions taken to improve otter health, reduce mortality, and improve southern sea otter habitat;

(3) recommendation for actions to improve otter health, reduce the occurrence of human-related mortality, and improve the health of such coastal marine ecosystems; and

(4) recommendations for funding to implement this Act.

Finally, an important management tool for any species protected under the ESA or the Marine Mammal Protection Act is known as the Potential Biological Removal (PBR). In lay language, this is the allowable “quota” for anthropogenic mortality.

In the case of the southern sea otters, the PBR level is eight animals. Given that, according to the Friends of the Otter, 50% of sea otters who die are never recovered, and at least two dead otters have been confirmed, the potential for serious long-term impacts on the population cannot be ignored.

Back in the bad old days, the Russians nearly wiped out the otters.

Now it looks like a down-home show.

How many implanted otters are out there? How many have died? What are the long-term impacts on these gentle creatures hauled out of the water and subjected to surgery, implants and anesthesia?

An investigation into the use of endangered species for highly invasive experiments should be undertaken as a matter of urgency for the State and Federal Agencies involved. In the end, it’s the Endangered Species Act at stake.

[1] Federal Register 18808 Vol.73, No. 67, Monday, April 7, 2008 Notices
[2] Prey choice and habitat use drive sea otter pathogen exposure in a resource limited coastal system. Christine K. Johnson, Martin T. Tinker et al, January 21, 2009

Tog at 95: Singing Along With Morro Bay's 'Living Treasure'


When you are the patriarch of the Tognazzinis, one of the most well-known families on the Central Coast for half a century, the father of 10 children — eight still living and thriving — and have been married for 73 years to Henrietta, the love of your life, you don’t often hear a question like “What else have you done?”

But that’s the question that Wilmar “Tog” Tognazzini enjoys answering the most. Because, while raising a large family that has contributed so much to the growth of Morro Bay and the county, he has also managed to make his own indelible mark as a school teacher, principal, superintendent, guide, historian, author, poet, musical performer and volunteer. Now, to honor all he has done and has had the good fortune of sharing with hundreds of residents in his long life, the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce on January 17 proclaimed Tog “A Living Treasure.”

Naturally, at 95 his step is a bit slower, but he is still sure afoot and his hands still remarkably nimble and precise. Certainly these are clear, verifying signs that longevity belongs to those whose walk is sturdy and hands steady. But it is the startling busyness and bustle of his mind that is even more striking when it comes to explaining his mastery of long life: his mental motor never stops running. This is a man, the ultimate self-starter, still diligently searching for his next task, fulfilling a purposeful life with unquenchable curiosity, taking extraordinary delight in the everyday things that bring him joy, surprise and a never-ending sense of discovery.

“I’m a doer,” Tog says. “I spend my waking hours thinking of things that I can do – thinking of things I might put into my life or somebody else’s life.”

Sure, Tog is proud of all his children – Jane, Alan, Susan, Noel, Mary, Ann, Mark and Todd — and they’re proud of him; they also know their father comes from a heritage of globe-trotting individualism, grew up during  an historic era of dramatic modernization between the great World Wars, and that he thrives on the unlimited possibilities in every tomorrow.

Born in Guadalupe in 1918, the third of three children, his mother was a librarian in Guadalupe and his father a mechanic, “and on the school board, so I suppose all those interests came to me,” Tog says.

He derived the most pleasure from a happy childhood in Guadalupe from “the fact that my folks gave me piano lessons. I must have gotten the interest from my sister and she ended up being quite a nice piano player. I ended up being a half-assed piano player with a lot of mistakes and no music.”

As a youngster he wasn’t the physical type. Outdoor sports held little interest for him, but when it came to the piano and homespun hobbies he was an indoor athlete. Life was good for young Tog until 7th grade when his father fell and broke his back on Christmas eve. “From that time on it was a changed life,” he says, “because Dad had to go to the hospital in San Francisco and get this and that taken care of, so we moved to Greenfield.

“Money was short then and, as far as the piano was concerned, if I wanted to learn the piano I had to learn it by myself, and so I taught myself.”

Tog had a knack for teaching himself how to do things and he enjoyed showing others what he’d learned to do. Over time these basic personality traits would find form, evolve into skills and become his profession.

He moved to Greenfield in Monterey County in 1930, graduating high school in King City in 1935, earning his elementary school teaching credentials from San Jose State Teachers College in 1939, with a major in education and minor in music and science – although his major would share top billing with his minor for years to come.

In fact, given a choice between describing himself as a teacher who played the piano or a piano player who taught, Tog replied without hesitation: “A piano player who taught. I was a teacher, too. I think I was a good teacher.”

As good a teacher as he was, it was music that introduced him to his wife-to-be.

“I went to a dance, and her sister was at the dance and introduced her to me. She was 15 and I was almost 21.” After a proper and “careful” courtship Wilmar Tognazzini and Henrietta Brown tied the knot in Greenfield in 1939.

Starting in1938 Tog took a series of teaching jobs in Pacific Grove, Los Gatos, San Jose, Kernville and Monterey, then sliding down the coast to Morro Bay in 1944 he began a highly successful 18-year run as principal and superintendent of the Morro Union Elementary School during the boom years, and also taught in San Luis Obispo. In 1947 he earned his elementary school principal and supervisor credentials and Master of Arts in Education at UCLA.

In 1967 Tog began learning Spanish in summer school at the University of Mexico, beginning a lifelong love affair with Mexico and its people as the couple traveled the country extensively and he immersed himself in the culture. He taught himself Spanish “mostly by keeping a Spanish book alongside the bed, and whenever a word came up I looked it up.” They also traveled around Central America and the U.S. as well as to England, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland to keep up his family ties there – Tog is Swiss Italian.

“My mother was born in a small town in Switzerland called Gordevio,” he wrote in his book Good, Bad and Indifferent, “and although my father was born in Australia, his ancestry is Swiss Italian. Both of his parents migrated to Australia before he was born and the family migrated in 1888 to America. Through Dad’s grandfather on his father’s side, who became an American citizen, my Dad achieved the same rights.”

After leaving Morro Union in 1962, Tog taught a captured audience at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo and also taught grades and Spanish in Paso Robles from 1968 to 1977 when he retired. After 35 years as an educator it was time for Tog to look beyond classroom walls for his next challenge. It was early on during his post-Morro Bay period that they opened Tog’s Party Shop, the first party shop and party catering business in SLO, which they sold in 1968.

“It’s easy for me to find something I’m interested in,” says Tog, and sure enough, soon after selling the shop in 1968 he became a “permanent intermittent guide” at Hearst Castle in San Simeon. The next year he became guide supervisor at the Castle and for the next dozen years he wrote the training manuals, trained the guides, and gave tours to such luminaries as Leon Panetta, Loretta Young and several California governors.

In between, the parade of children had begun, and all the while the music never stopped for Tog; he never stopped playing the piano. Music has played a “terribly” important role in his life and provided some of his and Henrietta’s most memorable “fun” times.

“My wife’s family had a little dance band,” Tog fondly recalls, “and while I was courting her, her mother and father and my wife, we used to play at all these places in the county. We usually played for the granges. We used to play songs like ‘I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad,’ and we did a lot of specialty dances like a Paul Jones, which was so popular.

“Mom played the e-flat alto sax and later I played the piano when her mother and father turned it over to me, and so the two of us continued and we played all over. When we played with her father the band was Joe Brown’s, when they played with me in was Tog’s Band.”

Henrietta enjoyed her own bright musical spotlight. According to a January 2000 Morro Bay Sun Bulletin article on their 60th anniversary, powered by her excellent baritone saxophone work she “became one of the original members of the Morro Bay White Caps Band. In 1981 she joined the San Luis Obispo County Band. Subsequently, she served two years as the first woman president of the County Band, the only woman to do so in the band’s 125-year history.”

Later, as their band days wound down and their audiences began to age Tog started playing and singing at convalescent homes, nursing homes, senior-citizen residences and other places for other organizations through his countywide “Fun With Music” campaign” and “Sing-Along Exercise Program.”

“At first these homes needed someone to play the piano, and so I played every home here (in Morro Bay) and for different organizations over and over again, and then gradually people started moving into homes, and the homes always had someone who could play, and so gradually I tell people I became super-saturated. I see a picture in the paper every week or so about a man who lives in one of the homes and he’s playing for them. That kind of put me in a no-play place. But every now and then I get a call and I play.”

Tog is a passionate people person. “I like to meet people. That’s certainly one of my favorite things to do.” And it’s all in the name of good clean fun, something Tog, with his sitcom-ready sense of humor, is always up for because he knows that “90% of being happy is doing something that you like to do,” he says, “enjoying what you do, and enjoying having people enjoy what you do.”

Tog also enjoyed putting together the popular “One Hundred Years Ago” column for the Telegram-Tribune – 16 volumes of columns published between 1988 and 2003 covering SLO County history from 1888 to 1903. And while he had several short articles published in the past, it wasn’t until 2011 that he finally began telling his own personal story and published his first humorously-titled book of poems, God Said It! I Just Listened and Wrote It Down. He had so much fun writing the first book that in 2012 he encored with his second book of poetry, the heartfelt Good, Bad, Indifferent, But Honestly, All Mine! His books are modest treasure chests of insights into a unique man, a whimsical dreamer, a serious man of deep faith, a wise, thoughtful man with a tender heart and a wide streak of humility that tempers his pride in his family and personal accomplishments.

Armed with a perpetually active mind and a boundless curiosity, and having done so many things to prove it, it’s hard to imagine Wilmar “Tog” Tognazzini being bored for even one day in his life. For example, questioned about what subject he would teach if he could teach anything, Tog replies:

“If I had to live my live again and do anything, I think I’d teach dancing.”

Considering all the subjects he has taught, it may be somewhat surprising to some to discover his favorite class was dancing, but it was the widespread impact of that teaching experience that has stayed with him:

“I taught dancing in Morro Bay. It was a tremendous success,” he recalls. “I had kids who traveled from every place in the county, and it went as far as Fresno and Santa Cruz. They danced over 100 different dances. That was probably the highlight of my educational life, because they kids were from 4th grade through 8th grade, and it was wonderful. You can imagine 8th grade boys performing that sort of thing! They were just outstanding. And these were the dances of the foreign countries, they weren’t two-bit dances.”

Tog has been honored many times by many organizations for his diverse life’s work in the community and unequaled generosity as a volunteer. He has received enough awards of recognition and certificates of appreciation to remind him that he is much admired, should he ever forget, and that each and every award is well deserved.

This is how the years have passed, although some things haven’t changed all that much. The rolling hills and farm fields of San Bernardo Creek just outside the town of Morro Bay have remained bright green with winter rains, and brisk ocean winds continue to chase the clouds inland, constantly changing the sky, while Wilmar Tognazzini has accumulated 95 years of life along the changing California coast.

Yet time stands still for Tog as his fingers agilely grasp the lip of the small parchment scroll embossed with the music to “I Fall Down and Go Boom” and load it into the back slot of his circa 1929 Rolmonica Player Harmonica — half harmonica, half player piano. Then, turning the handle of the scroll and blowing the harmonica at the same time, he coaxes the popular tune from yesteryear from his rare Rolmonica. So he’s still making music today.

When the music stops the conversation inevitably turns to Henrietta, 90, his musical partner, who is never very far from his side, and how their marriage of 73 years has reached historic longevity.

“You can’t believe how many people say when they know how many years, they say, ‘I never heard of anybody who was ever married that long,”’ he says. Does such a comment annoy him? “No,” he says, “it’s kind of pleasuresome. There’s a certain air to it. Or (people say), ‘I’m glad you did it.’”

But tell us, Tog, how did you do it?

“Sometimes we don’t answer,” he said with deadpan humor, Henrietta laughing. “No, we try to give each other credit. I’ve got a great family but their Mom is an awful lot of that great family, too, you have to remember that.”

No need to remember what no one forgets, including the fact that, as good as life has been, they have had more than their share of heartbreak, which happens when you live a long time.

“We lost two children and my Dad and Mother went before I did,” Tog says. “My sister went before I did and my brother was killed in World War II. My brother was in the air corps. He was in a plane, a B-17, flying with his group from France back to England and two of our planes collided. He went to the bottom of the Thames and so he was lost.”

Which is one of the big reasons why Tog cherishes his memories, why he keeps his loved ones close and why his heart is so big. He sums himself up simply and humbly. “I’m a very varied person. I like to do lots of things… I like to do everything, and I like to be able to say that I can do them. I tell my kids, do those things which you like to do and be proud of them.”

Tog and Henrietta have lived in the same house for 67 years, though not in the same location. Many years ago they had the house moved intact from the heart of Morro Bay to rural San Bernardo Creek Road just outside of town, and then built on more rooms for the children that would fill the house. There, his eight children, 18 grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren and many friends come to visit.

When asked the next day what he told the audience after being honored January 17 as one of the town’s “Living Treasures” — at an event he thought he was attending for his son Mark, Tog wrote:

“Yes, last night was a surprise! Of course you know that the speaker of the evening never remembers what he said. The best source is the listeners! I did have the gang of people meet all of my families and there were quite a few of my family there. They are the reason for me plus the most important person, my wife! She is always the most important but she takes it with pride.”

P.S. According to the Bay News, Tog actually said to the audience: “Now I know why so many of my family members are here. I give full credit to my wife for everything in my life.”

Tog passed away on October 20, 2013, followed in death five months later on March 11, 2014 by his beloved wife, Henrietta. They are now together forever in heaven.




Photos courtesy of the Tognazzini family archives.


Coastal Commission Diving Into PG&E’s Murky Low-Energy Tests

CCCWhen are a low-energy seismic survey (LESS) and a high-energy seismic survey (HESS) practically identical in their significant impacts on marine life? Prompted by the public’s request for an investigation into PG&E’s low-energy seismic tests off the Central Coast, California Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester told those attending the Commission’s January 9 hearing in Pismo Beach that they are looking deeper into the connections between HESS and LESS – or what one public speaker colorfully called the “evil twins.”

In an historic vote with national, if not international ramifications for marine protected areas, the California Coastal Commission sent a high-decibel message to utility giant PG&E on November 14 when the Commission unanimously denied PG&E a permit to conduct 3D high-energy seismic tests off the Central Coast to map earthquake fault lines surrounding the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in Avila Beach, and they unanimously affirmed that message with additions on January 9.

Now, with the extent of the overlap between HESS and LESS in mind, the Commission is probing PG&E’s so-called low-energy seismic tests off the Central Coast, which for years have been taking place under the public radar, based on an outdated 1984 permit authorized by the State Lands Commission requiring no environmental review or mitigation, and largely unmonitored for impacts. Leading the LESS inquiry is the Commission’s Cassidy Tuefel, Environmental Analyst with the Energy, Ocean Resources & Federal Consistency Division. Mr. Tuefel was also responsible for forging the staff report that served as the foundation for denial of PG&E’s HESS permit application.

“In the past we have not reviewed these low-energy seismic surveys,” said Mr. Lester during the hearing that included the Commission’s formal adoption of the final revised findings on the earlier PG&E permit denial. “Long ago decisions were made about the significance of the impact here, and the determination was made not to do permitting reviews of those, but we are looking into these new issues that have been raised including working with State Lands and doing some reevaluation of their permit that was issued in the 1980s. We don’t know what the answer is right now but there may be a permit requirement. There are definitely workload implications to determining whether our discretion to do (LESS) permit review is triggered.”

Alison Dettmer, the Commission’s Deputy Director, described the Commission’s present position on low-energy testing as “a complicated issue. There’s a lot of low-energy surveys that are done off shore that are actually filing requirements for us, information that we need and want in order to get data to review an application.

“Right now, the way the State Lands Commission’s permit program works for these geophysical surveys is if a survey is generating energy that is two kilojoules or less it falls within that geophysical survey permit program and therefore no new CEQA or no new individual approval is needed for that,” Miss Dettmer summarized. “There’s been a lot of concerns now expressed by the public that we that that might be the incorrect measurement, that we should be looking at decibel levels because some of these low-energy surveys also are at high decibel levels. Apparently it’s even more complicated than that because depending on whether it’s low frequency or high frequency sound propagates differently.

“So we need to really look a little bit (more) deeply into these issues right now,” Miss Dettmer concluded. “State Lands Commission recently got some money from the Ocean Protection Council to go back and do an environmental evaluation of that 1984 program, so they may eventually make some changes, we don’t know; they may come up with a new measurement for how they decide when it’s significant or not, and there are definitely enormous workload implications depending on where this comes down for us because as you know our energy group is very small. But Cassidy Teufel, who worked on the seismic project for PG&E,  is working on this, and is going to be working with State Lands Commission staff, and we’ll be reviewing  that document  that they produce.”

Several speakers representing, among other organizations, the C.O.A.S.T. Alliance, Northern Chumash Tribal Council and SLO Surfrider Foundation, requested that the Commission stop PG&E’s low-energy seismic surveys by the same criteria they developed to stop their high-energy seismic surveys last November, and work  closely with the State Lands Commission to update and upgrade the Geophysical Physical Permitting Program (GSPP) to include a full environmental review that satisfies the Coastal Act, or even assume responsibility for such future permitting from State Lands.

Said respected SLO County activist Eric Greening: “The State Lands Commission has no presence whatsoever by the resources agency. None of them are resources people, so they are simply not versed in or prepared to enforce the Coastal Act. So when we have activities taking place that the Coastal Act needs to be engaged with, it is you (the Coastal Commission) that needs to be in a position to permit or not permit these activities, activities that have been going on that you have not even been allowed to get into a position to prevent, but which we hope from this day forward you will be in a position to prevent or insist on putting yourselves in a position to prevent.”

Mandy Davis of the C.O.A.S.T Alliance (Citizens Opposing Acoustic Seismic Testing) spoke about the relationship of LESS to HESS: “The salient points and some the parameters by which you made that decision, every single one of those parameters is relatable to your making decisions about the arbitrary line drawn in the sand by CSLC (California State Lands Commission), which they have determined that LESS and HESS have been demarked. It’s arbitrary and it has kept CSLC from having to really be responsible to those agencies that need to have a voice in acoustic seismic testing.

“So we are suggesting that in the future we start to take a look at acoustic seismic testing as what it is, as one complete unit, and to forget about those delineations, because what is really important are the source and received levels and the hertz levels that they are operating at, and we will provide that information for you. You’ve already made the decision, those determining factors are already out there, and this should be almost a no-brainer for you to take a look at,” said Miss Davis.

Mary Webb, speaking for Greenspace, the Cambria Land Trust, expressed concern that the permitting process “was used to allow these surveys to occur in highly protected marine environments without the benefit of oversight of the Coastal Commission and other permitting agencies. These projects should not be allowed using these decades-old permits without a thorough vetting from appropriate agencies whose very existence is to regulate and monitor activities in protected areas. An extensive amount of information was omitted from these 1984 permits that the State Lands Commission used. We are concerned that the noise levels of 216 decibels are considered low enough by State Lands to avoid an environmental impact report. The permitting process must be corrected in order to prevent mistakes of this magnitude from being repeated.”

Said Carol Georgi, representing California Central Coast Marine Sanctuary Alliance and SLO County Surfrider Foundation: “We ask the Commission to send a letter to State Lands stating they need to suspend all permits now. They have an open permit for one year which means the companies can go wherever they want to on the California Coast to do a survey. You need a take permit if you’re going to have received decibels of 160 for a Level B and over 180 for a Level A take. These permits in low-energy testing have been over that amount and they have not received those federal permits for take. The State Land Commission says recent studies demonstrate that factors such as frequency, sound-pressure levels, which are decibels, and the type of exposure are more significant factors for assessing impacts to marine wildlife behavior and physiology than energy input, which is kilojoules. Kilojoules and decibels are different; they are not the same.”

Jennifer Jozwiak, with the SLO Surfrider Foundation, urged the Commission to review the current Geophysical Survey Permitting Program (GSPP) that PG&E had been using to conduct their low-energy seismic surveys. “The impact on marine life and humans needs to be addressed before any more surveys are done, and the Coastal Commission needs to have more oversight in this permitting process to ensure that safeguards are being used to protect of ocean ecosystem. Just in November PG&E came to you requesting a permit to do high-energy surveys of 260 decibels; 216 decibels is not that far off, and this may have terrible consequences for fishing, recreation and marine life.”

Said Fred Collins, Tribal Administrator of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council: “We have some great concerns about this LESS testing, and we’ve submitted a document to State Lands Commission asking for a review of their Geophysical Permitting Process. It’s really important to us that you take a real strong look at this. Since we’ve had the LESS testing a lot of our migratory birds, birds that live here along this region, have left and haven’t come back. The amount of plankton and fish that these animals and birds live on have been affected by LESS. Please look at it very closely and let’s not let it happen off our coast.”

David Georgi of Shell Beach told the Commission, “Please be aware, high energy and low energy are the evil twins.”

Joey Racano of the Ocean Outfall Group, who noted that environmental groups on the East Coast “are now fighting their own seismic battles,” added: “With this so-called ‘low-energy seismic survey, I agree with Mr. Georgi that these are just the evil twins, LESS and HESS, two tentacles of the same kraken, if you will. When you’re up around 200 decibels it’s hard to separate (LESS from HESS), and so therefore in the future I hope you will lump them all in together, because there’s no reason to have either low- or high-energy seismic surveys…”


Following is a sampling of pertinent excerpts from speakers’ public comments:

ERIC GREENING: “We want to bring to your attention and within the purview of the commission, something that has been routinely ongoing that State Lands is not the agency to handle, is not set up to handle, and the Coastal Commission is. You’ll be hearing from other people about the physical impacts of this testing and the lack of public process by which it has been allowed in our waters. I just wanted to remind you that the State Lands Commission has no presence whatsoever by the resources agency. It is made up of three people, two of them are statewide elected officials, the Lt. Governor and the Controller, and then there’s the Director of Finance. They’re often represented by proxies. So essentially two of them are money people, none of them are resources people, so their scrutiny of the waters and shorelines – they have no biologist on staff – they are simply not versed in or prepared to enforce the Coastal Act, and so when we have activities taking place that the Coastal Act needs to be engaged with, it is you (the Coastal Commission) that needs to be in a position to permit or not permit these activities. And so I urge you to listen with great care to the people who will be describing the activities that have been going on that you have not even been allowed to get into a position to prevent, but which we hope from this day forward you will be in a position to prevent or insist on putting yourselves in a position to prevent.”

MARY WEBB, GREENSPACE, THE CAMBRIA LAND TRUST: “We are very concerned with the permitting process that was used to allow these surveys to occur in highly protected marine environments without the benefit of oversight of the Coastal Commission and other permitting agencies. These projects should not be allowed using these decades-old permits without a thorough vetting from appropriate agencies whose very existence is to regulate and monitor activities in protected areas. An extensive amount of information was omitted from these 1984 permits that the State Lands Commission used. The most recent scientific literature was not considered when analyzing the effects of sound on marine mammals. Harbor porpoises and sea otters died. The maps did not contain the boundaries of marine protected area and fishermen were not compensated for losses. Baseline studies were not performed. Mitigation was not offered or required, and sea otters actually underwent surgery to install radio tracking devices for a project that was not approved Nov. 14th. We believe an investigation and revaluation of these LESS surveys is needed. We are concerned that the noise levels of 216 decibels are considered low enough by State Lands to avoid an environmental impact report. The public was not sufficiently notified of the LESS project. … The permitting process must be corrected in order to prevent mistakes of this magnitude from being repeated.”

CAROL GEORGI, CALIFORNIA CENTRAL COAST MARINE SANCTUARY ALLIANCE and SLO COUNTY SURFRIDER FOUNDATION: “We ask the Commission to send a letter to State Lands stating they need to suspend all permits now. They have an open permit for one year which means the companies can go wherever they want to on the California Coast to do a survey. … The California Ocean Council has said it’s critical that the California State Lands Commission update their permit program. They gave them $222,000 in August 2011 to do just that. The reason is, they are using kilojoules which is energy input to define what is low and what is high. That has nothing to do with the impact to the mammals and to the people in the water; it’s a completely different element. That is decibels. The NOAA and the NOAA Fishery Service use decibels… and you need a take permit if you’re going to have received decibels of 160 for a Level B and over 180 for a Level A take. These permits in low-energy testing have been over that amount and they have not received those federal permits for take. The State Land Commission says recent studies demonstrate that factors such as frequency, sound-pressure levels, which are decibels, and the type of exposure are more significant factors for assessing impacts to marine wildlife behavior and physiology than energy input, which is kilojoules. Kilojoules is the energy input in the machine; what happens in the water is the air pressure wave, which is measured by decibels – they are different, they are not the same.”

SUSAN JORDAN, CALIFORNIA COASTAL PROTECTION NETWORK: “That (PG&E high-energy test proposal) was really the first time that you were evaluating a project in proximity to marine protected areas and that’s one area we all need to think about how this Commission is going to move forward on that. Also, we are all very concerned about the low-energy testing that’s been going on out there (off the Central Coast) for a couple of years, and we don’t feel the appropriate tests are being done, so we are also in touch with the State Lands Commission, and we encourage the Commission and their staff to talk to them about how they’re upgrading this 1980s permit. So it’s an important piece and one we all want to get our hands on.”

JENNIFER JOZWIAK, SLO SURFRIDER FOUNDATION: “PG&E has been conducting these surveys in our County’s waters for five years now. I’m greatly concerned that this survey program, which was created nearly 20 years ago without adequate environmental oversight such as CEQA could endanger our ocean ecosystem. The impact on marine life and humans needs to be addressed before anymore surveys are done, and the Coastal Commission needs to have more oversight in this permitting process to ensure that safeguards are being used to protect of ocean ecosystem. Besides marine life, low-energy surveys may also have an effect on divers, surfers, and other ocean users. PG&E has documented their surveys to be as high as 216 decibels. This level has been known to cause adverse effects in humans that the Navy determined in its testing. Has PG&E been warning the public not to enter the water when they are conducting these surveys? I have never seen signage nor a newspaper article, nor have I heard TV ads warn the public. Just in November PG&E came to you requesting a permit to do high-energy surveys of 260 decibels; 216 decibels is not that far off, and this may have terrible consequences for fishing, recreation and marine life.”

MARLA JO BRUTON, CO-CHAIR, C.O.A.S.T ALLIANCE: “The Coastal Alliance respectfully requests the Coastal Commission to direct their staff to report on the following as pertains to acoustic seismic testing in the state of California, including: the issues related to acoustic testing and its effects on marine life, humans and other coastal resources; the status of acoustic testing in relation to past, current and planned projects; the permitting and environmental review that has been done on past and current projects; the permitting and environmental review required for acoustic testing; the Coastal Act policies most likely to apply to proposed acoustic testing projects; and the information likely to be required for review of possible environmental impacts and review for coastal development permits.”


C.O.A.S.T Alliance Refocuses on Stopping PG&E’s ‘Low-Energy’ Seismic Tests Off the Central Coast

Citizens Opposing Acoustic Seismic Testing
Citizens Opposing Acoustic Seismic Testing

Two months from helping to chase PG&E’s looming 3D high-energy seismic test from blasting Central Coast waters, the C.O.A.S.T Alliance finds it still has unfinished seismic business off the coast with PG&E.

PG&E’s proposed high-energy seismic survey (HESS) was sunk by the California Coastal Commission on November 14 before it could hit the water, but PG&E continues to be active off the Central Coast with its so-called low-energy 3D and 2D seismic surveys (LESS). As a result, the C.O.A.S.T Alliance has refocused its mission to remain proactive in working to eliminate LESS and HESS in marine reserve areas locally and globally.

A leader in the fight to stop PG&E’s high-energy survey, the C.O.A.S.T Alliance – the diverse, broad-based coalition of fishermen, environmentalists, citizens and Native Americans opposing seismic testing – has expanded its opposition from HESS to LESS and to all seismic testing threatening marine life in U.S. coastal waters and around the world.

C.O.A.S.T contends that PG&E has been conducting low-energy tests off the Central Coast for several years without proper permitting, proper noticing, and with unpermitted equipment. Fishermen have been displaced, their catch reduced dramatically, while PG&E has refused to negotiate or compensate fishermen for their losses.

Said C.O.A.S.T spokesperson Mandy Davis: “In the wake of the Coastal Commission’s denial of PG&E’s destructive HESS acoustic testing project, the C.O.A.S.T Alliance is following up on little known and stifled information about the acoustic testing that has been taking place under our noses for the last two and a half years.

“Operating under an antiquated and potentially invalid permit and Mitigation Negative Declaration, PG&E has been conducting acoustic seismic tests off our shores at potential sound levels as high as 216dBs. That is hardly what any federal or state agency — other than the State Lands Commission — would term ‘low intensity’ as they have designated this series of tests.

“If PG&E was operating at the upper level of power output called out in the permits the impacts to marine wildlife would be significant, and, as one respected fisherman described the potential damage, ‘obscene,’” Miss Davis said. “It is time to put a permanent end to the raping of our local oceans by an unethical corporate ‘neighbor.’”

C.O.A.S.T has formally asked for all documentation relating to PG&E’s past acoustic seismic tests from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the State Lands Commission (CSLC) and PG&E management.

“We will use that information to hold PG&E’s feet to the fire for any past transgressions, to keep them out of the water for good, and demand compensation for the damage done to local fishermen and our ocean heritage,” Miss Davis said.

Following the Coastal Commission’s momentous, unanimous decision not to permit PG&E’s high-energy seismic test in Estero Bay, the C.O.A.S.T Alliance turned its attention to LESS, rewriting its mission and position statements to reflect its opposition to all seismic testing.

C.O.A.S.T’s position statement now reads: “In recognition of the significant negative biological impacts and the resulting ramifications to onshore economies, C.O.A.S.T seeks a cessation to all preparations for offshore acoustic testing now in progress and an end to all plans to engage in acoustic testing as means for seismic mapping. We insist that permits for all HESS and LESS projects be denied in accordance with the fact that an issuance of the permits would not comply with numerous coastal protection acts worldwide and would violate the sovereign rights of indigenous nations. Additionally, the projects would be in violation of endangered species laws, marine mammal protection laws, the Convention for Migratory Species, currently established Marine Protected Areas, and numerous fisheries protection agreements both locally and globally. Further, given the growing body of scientific evidence of impacts on all trophic layers of marine ecosystems, agencies must adopt the precautionary principle and recognize their responsibility to the human communities involved and to the devastation that the acoustic seismic testing would wreak on marine reliant economies.”

For more information about C.O.A.S.T (Citizens Opposing Acoustic Seismic Testing) and seismic testing visit:

Ed Ochs is a member of C.O.A.S.T.

Los Osos CSD in Management Limbo

Susan Morrow, Los Osos Community Services District’s most recent general manager, had her position terminated after only seven months. The LOCSD declined to offer an explanation for her termination since it was a “personnel matter,” according to Director Marshall Ochylski. Residents at meetings routinely criticized Morrow for what they considered was her poor performance.

Residents complained that Morrow did not respond to public records requests, including requests for information pertaining to the district’s bankruptcy plan.

“She shined me on on several occasions with regard to [Public Records Act],” former LOCSD director Julie Tacker told The ROCK. “Morrow prevented [LOCSD Administrative Secretary Ann Kudart] from even responding to my requests.” Similarly, other sources reported similar behavior from Morrow.

The board gave Morrow a severance package, which includes her two-month salary and vacation time that was accrued over the seven months that she served the board.

The LOCSD has come under fire by critics for being dysfunctional, namely when it comes to retaining personnel.

Morrow was hired as general manager after Dan Gilmore resigned from the position last January. Sources close to the district say that Gilmore resigned after being pressured by the district to do so. The board allegedly took issue with his job performance. When Gilmore resigned, the board declined to talk specifics. Gilmore had served the board since October 2009.

Gilmore was no stranger to controversy. Though he had local project and budget management experience — which the LOCSD hoped would come in handy for dealing with their finances — Gilmore repeatedly refused to respond to inquiries about bankruptcy proceedings and failed to submit committee reports in a timely manner.

Gilmore replaced then-general manager John Schempf, who left in February 2009 to pursue a job opportunity in South Berwick, Maine. Schempf’s reasons for leaving the district were unclear, though residents speculated that he was frustrated with the district’s lack of consensus on several board items. Around that time, the board was in clear disarray. In early 2009, the LOCSD mulled the possibility of hiring a mediator and strategic planner to help facilitate dialogue between feuding directors.

Issues involving the district general manager have existed since the CSD was formed in late 1998. San Luis Obispo County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren was LOCSD general manager in 1999. During that time, Ogren instructed his replacement, Bruce Buel, to backdate a September 1999 services contract with MWH Americas at the board’s request, which was later scrutinized in a 2009 complaint filed by former LOCSD President Lisa Schicker. MWH is a general contractor firm that specializes in water, wastewater, and hydropower (“wet infrastructure”) projects. The company’s involvement with the Los Osos wastewater project was a source of controversy.

Buel was repeatedly criticized for pushing through the 2005 wastewater project, which was led by MWH Americas. In mid-2005, witnesses reported that Buel and former board president Stan Gustafson reportedly removed documents pertaining to the sewer from the LOCSD office. Witnesses also alleged that Buel and Gustafson changed the locks on the office front doors, which barred board members and project dissidents Tacker and Schicker from entry.

Since Bruce Buel left in 2005, there has been no general manager that lasted longer than two years. Under Ochylski’s leadership, there were five general managers.

The LOCSD, which survived a contentious dissolution attempt in 2006, was able to get approval for their bankruptcy plan in July 29, 2011. The plan has been appealed. The hearing date for the appeal will take place later this year.

With the plan in place, the board has made steady progress in reducing their $45 million worth of debt. The debt accumulated after the board, in mid-2005, halted the construction of the wastewater project. Since then, the board relinquished their wastewater project authority and transferred it to the County of San Luis Obispo in accordance to a plan backed by then-Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee.

When asked for more information about Morrow’s departure, the district declined to comment.

The LOCSD provides services to Los Osos including water, wastewater, drainage, parks, recreation, street lighting, solid waste, fire emergency and rescue response.